8:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Giants -4, Over/Under: 43.5
A pair of teams coming off very different Openers clash tonight in the Meadowlands, as the reeling New York Giants host the Detroit Lions at MetLife Stadium in a key NFC matchup. Last Sunday’s meeting with the Arizona Cardinals played out very much to form for the Lions (1-0, 1st in NFC North), who in 2016 made a habit out of coming back to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Before he secured a monumental five-year, $135 million extension, Matthew Stafford was busy leading his teammates to an NFL Record EIGHT Fourth Quarter Comebacks, and wouldn’t you know it, added to that total last weekend. Arizona jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in the First Quarter, before the hosts slowly clawed their way back into the contest, outscoring the visitors 35-13 the rest of the way. Stafford (65.3%, 4,327 YDS, 6.52 NY/A, 24 TD, 10 INT in 2016) made a new acquaintance in the form of Rookie Receiver Kenny Golladay, connecting on a pair of Touchdown Passes to kick off the final stanza, the first going for ten Yards and the second for another forty-five. Indeed, Jim Caldwell’s charges got stronger as the game progressed, opening the Fourth with three consecutive Touchdown Drives, which the shorthanded Cardinals (who just lost All-Pro Tailback David Johnson to a dislocated Wrist) unable to muster much of a response. At the end of the day, Stafford completed 29-of-41 Passes for 292 Yards, four Touchdowns and an Interception, sharing the wealth with seven different Lions reeling in at least a pair of Receptions. Honestly, this kid’s mastery of the Fourth Quarter should really come as no surprise, for few Quarterbacks have been as prolific with their team trailing; in addition to his twenty-six Fourth Quarter Comebacks and twenty-nine Game-Winning Drives, Stafford has thrown a total of fifty-six Fourth Quarter Touchdowns (while rushing for another eight) throughout his career. Furthermore, he’s been absurdly collected when trailing, throwing a staggering ninety-eight Touchdowns and rushing for ten more with his team looking to erase a deficit, which is more than he’s accounted for when he’s been leading or the score has been tied (Ninety-Three). However, while Stafford’s late exploits is hardly something new, the more surprising takeaway from last week was the performance of the Defense, which regained it’s footing after some early mistakes to really get after Carson Palmer and Co. In addition to knocking Johnson out of the game, the Lions made life miserable for Palmer, harassing the veteran Quarterback throughout the duration of the day, sacking him once and intercepting him three times, the last of which Safety Miles Killebrew returned thirty-five Yards for a Touchdown. With Johnson out, the visiting side could manage only forty-five Yards on eighteen Carries before largely abandoning the run altogether. Rookie Linebacker Jarrad Davis was flying all over the field, recording nine Tackles, while recovering a Fumble. This must all come as a welcome sight for Caldwell and his Staff, for last year this unit was an unmitigated disaster, allowing opposing Quarterbacks to complete an NFL-high 72.7% of their Attempts, all the while registering a scant fourteen Takeaways (28th Overall). Keep an eye on Pro Bowl Edge Rusher Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, who was limited in Practice throughout the week due to a knee injury he picked up in the Opener, and is currently listed as Questionable on the Injury Report.
Meanwhile, the man that used to hold the title of Comeback King cannot like what he saw last week, as Eli Manning and the Giants (0-1, 4th in NFC East) looked stagnant against reigning Division Champion Dallas Cowboys. Honestly, stagnant may be too kind of a word to describe New York’s performance on the offensive side of the ball in last Sunday’s 19-3 defeat in Arlington, Texas; Ben McAdoo’s charges could muster just 233 Total Yards of Offense, including thirty-five Rushing Yards on twelve Carries and another 198 Yards through the air on a 29-of-38 Attempts, while converting a disappointing 4-of-12 Third Downs. Even without the presence of Pro Bowl Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (101 REC, 1,367 YDS, 10 TD), who missed the game courtesy of a high ankle sprain, this unit looked far too similar to the one from 2016, which is NOT a complement. Last year’s Offense was routinely pummeled at the Line of Scrimmage, unable to run the ball consistently (88.3 Y/G, 29th Overall, 3.5 Y/A, 30th Overall), or protect Manning (63.0%, 4,027 YDS, 6.28 NY/A, 26 TD, 16 INT) long enough for the two-time Super Bowl MVP to sit back and survey the field and make proper use of his weapons. Instead, last season was pretty much Eli resorting to quick, three-step drops utilizing Multi-Receiver formations to beat the Pass Rush. And speaking of Pass Rushes, it’s not like the Cowboys will be confused with the 1985 Bears anytime soon, particularly after garnering only thirty-six Sacks a year ago, but three against Manning and Co. is simply too many. And it’s not like the Giants haven’t invested heavily in their Offensive Line, drafting both Tackles Justin Pugh (2013) and Erek Flowers (2015) in the First Round. This past Offseason, the only thing that Management seemed interested in improving was the Passing Game, or at least in the Red Zone, with the acquisition of veteran Receiver Brandon Marshall (59 REC, 788 YDS, 3 TD in 2016). At 6-4, 229 lbs., the six-time Pro Bowler has long been one of the more consistently physical players at his position, and should partner quite nicely with the likes of Beckham, while providing a much-needed target in tight spaces when the chains need to be moved. Marshall, who was nursing a bum shoulder in the Opener, had just one Reception on four targets for ten yards in the loss to Dallas, but then again, it’s not like his cohorts were able to sustain many drives long enough get that close to Red Zone in the first place.